Friday, October 8, 2010

Exploring a route to St Ives from Cambridge and back on the CGB

Thursday, 7th October: At the moment I am taking the position that there aren't going to be many sunny days for a while and with the nights drawing it is OK to make hay cycle when the sun shines. I have also been getting stuck in a rut in terms of cycling and been following paths/roads that I know well. So a look at the map and Google Earth and it looked as if there might be an interesting track between Holywell/Needingworth and the Cambridge Guided Busway (CGB) near St Ives which would allow me to avoid cycling along some of the A1123 (not a pleasant road for cyclists). I also saw a track that seemed to bypass the B1050 from Willingham to Earith - again another road that as a cyclist I don't really like that much.

So I had a couple of places in mind, I would use the CGB to get back into Cambridge and since Pauley's Drove (Rampton) had recently been in the press I thought I might cycle along the bridleway (Gun's Lane) and byway (Rampton Drift/Cuckoo Lane/Pauley's Drove) from Histon up to Rampton. As I was cycling out of Cambridge towards Histon I changed my mind. For one thing the Ouse Viaduct (bridge) carrying the CGB over the River Great Ouse was closed, according to signage the last time I was there (4th October to 4th November) - something that occurred to me only after I had set off. Also with the recent rain I wanted to spend my time exploring new routes not squelching along old ones. In the end I took the route shown, here is the link. I used the cycle way from Cambridge through Histon and then to Cottenham. Much like football it was a game of two halves. There has been a lot of work with on-road markings and shared paths from Cambridge to Histon, but after that the shared use path is a scruffy thin pavement - that has been called a shared use path, but doesn't even make the grade, in my opinion as a decent pavement. There are plans to do something about it though. Mind you the Web-page provided by CCC gives a link to drawings, but seems to miss indicating just how wide the path will be? The web site has lots of pages, but its information density could be improved.

The route is around 56 Km/35miles, however bits of it are hard going and I ended up on a footpath - so it is not really a cycle route. It is very flat though, starting at 8m above sea level and varying from 1m to 20m above sea level. I cycled it on my Hybrid with 25mm tyres, given the bridleway conditions they were only just suitable, I did a lot of slipping and sliding in places (including the CGB!).

Cambridge Willingham St Ives CGB Annotated.jpg

I stopped on the bridge over the CGB on the outskirts of Histon to take a picture of the Histon CGB stop. The "platforms" are either side of the traffic lights depending on whether you are going to St Ives or not.


There is not much to report until Willingham, as I mentioned above, the Histon to Cottenham shared-used path was not pleasant, but I suppose it was off the road. I cycled along it because I was checking it out - however if I was to commute along that road I think I would use the road - it would be safer at commuting speed. My route out of Willingham was along the West Fen road - past the recreation ground. It was a straight road passing a few farms along the way. Not unsurprisingly it was a concrete road with a dressing of tarmac, that had in the main, worn off. It was wonderful - no cars, blue skies, open countryside, this was a great way to avoid the B1050, at this point I was congratulating myself on finding such a pleasant route.


I took a few pictures looking in different directions from the same spot (as the last picture). Here are the open fields.


More open fields in the other direction - there has been some recent hay-making. The field looks a bit soggy where the tractor has passed though.


This picture looks back towards Willingham - was standing in a passing spot not the ditch as implied by the viewpoint.


Unfortunately the road came to a sudden end. The way forward was a bridleway rather than a byway - however in my mind I think I was hoping for something a little more promising. I was hoping to see the concrete carry on. It is a pity we don't take cycling as seriously as they do in Holland. I would liker to see this sort of route turned into a tarmac cycleway (allowing farmers, walkers and horse-riders as well of course.). I don't think there is much chance of that though. Actually this bit was not too bad - a reasonable grass track.


The grass track did not last though - what with the recent rain and the farmers needing to get to their fields to plough them the route became a wet and muddy track. I managed to keep going, on this bit I cycled along the edge mainly. The mud was so slippery that when cycling along it the wheel would slip so you end up pedalling further than the bike travels. Hoping that you don't completely lose traction and have to dab you feet into the mud. Once you are moving it is a question of maintaining momentum, starting off in this mud can be tricky.


The path got worse before it got better as well. This bit was tricky as the width of grass at the edge was thinner but the grass was longer.


The countryside was nice though - no cars, blue skies, and a toadstool growing in the shade of the hedgerow. If you look at the map you can see that the path almost doubles back on itself as it follows field boundaries. I could have given up early and joined the road (Shelford's Road) before reaching the junction to Earith - but that would have been cheating. Sometimes you have to take the slippery with the muddy.

The path did improve, well it was less muddy, but it would have been easier on an MTB though. Another look on the map shows that West Fen Road runs fairly close to Long Holme Drive which looks like it has a good surface to Hermitage Lock, unfortunately there does not seem to be a convenient route between the two concrete tracks.


Once I had reached the main road (A1123) it was just a question of getting my head down and cycling speedily to the point where I could turn off the road. It might just be me - but I dislike the road, it is fast but not very wide. Some cars overtake with plenty of space, many (especially vans) don't. There do look to be tracks that would cut off bits of the road (around Bluntisham) for instance, but they do not have a public right of way.

I turned off the main road into Needingworth as soon as I could and went down what looks like the old road/path. In fact there was so much moss growing on the path I did wonder whether it would be incredibly slippery - actually it was ok.


Reaching the end of the path I noticed a couple of sun dogs. A phenomena I have only recently noticed. It was MikeC who told me what they were and pointed to the website in the link. This picture is an ordinary single exposure picture taken using a tree to obscure the sun so that I didn't burn my camera out. The sun dogs are either side of the tree - little short rainbow thingies.

Mike also mentioned CZA (circumzenithal arcs) or an "upside down rainbow" or "grin in the sky" which can sometimes be seen when there are sundogs around. So I had a look for them but was not lucky enough to see them.


This is the same photo as above but using 7 different exposures so you can see more colour in the trees and bushes as well as cloud detail.


It was an interesting coincidence when I got home after the ride to see an email from MikeC with an image of a CZA, taken that afternoon whilst he was cycling along Lodes Way near Split Drove. Here is Mike's picture of a CZA - or grin in the sky. I guess this time of year is quite a good time to be looking for them, with the sun setting earlier in the day. Of course it was not really so much of a coincidence as the conditions were right for such phenomena, next time I must pay more attention. It is a good picture of a CZA though.


After the excitement of seeing the sundogs I cycled along to Holywell a very picturesque village near the banks of the River Great Ouse. There were lots of thatched cottages and it is no surprise to learn that it is in a Conservation Area. Here is one of the many thatched cottages.


This is the view looking out from that cottage - green fields, sheep and the river (Ouse) in the distance.


Looking at the map there seemed to be a track which took a dog-leg just after the village and then reached another track running parallel with the CGB. This looked like an ideal cycle way through to the CGB and so avoiding the A1123/A1096. They are busy roads in the evening rush hour. Unfortunately I missed the dog-leg and must have carried along a footpath ( I now realise having checked the map). My apologies to those who use the footpath it was clear that other cyclists had used the path, but it was very wet, muddy and slippery. I had my only unplanned stop on this path as both wheels slid from under me - I remained standing though. I wonder what it would take to get a Sustrans route through here?

When I reached the CGB, I though it was worth having a look to see how closed the Viaduct was. Well the answer was not very closed. There were fence barriers across the concrete tracks on either side, but the shared-use cycleway was open and I followed a cyclist through. I wonder what is planned here? Still it was good to see that the route was not closed unnecessarily.


One of the good things about going back on the CGB was that it was starting to get dark, I had lights, but twilight is not the best of times on a bicycle I feel, so the CGB provides a welcome and safer route to cover the 16Km/10 miles or so into Cambridge. Here is the sun low on the horizon over one of the many lakes in this area.


It will come as no great surprise to regular readers that the flooding of the cycle path was as bad as ever since the brief summer when it dried out. This chap used the verge to get by this patch of flooding. This is why you need an MTB on the CGB - that verge was pretty slippery.


After stopping to take the last picture I caught him up and followed him through the next puddle - I am not sure I would have cycled through it without seeing that it was not too deep. As it was it nearly came up to my pedals. I was not wearing socks and did not really want to get wet feet. I did not take pictures of all of the cycle path pools, there were two others that it was possible to skirt along the edge of and then this one - requiring more off-off-roading. Which is what you have to do when you are already off-road and have to avoid the off-road.


The ride home on the CGB was quite busy and I managed to overtake some cyclists using the concrete tracks whilst I was cycling on the gravel path alongside. (Little things please little minds!). I did notice though that the concrete blocks had been removed from the CGB road intersections along most of the length of the CGB. I wonder if more Bus trials are about to run and if so do they know that the Ouse Viaduct is closed! I wonder can guided buses reverse along the CGB tracks?

It must have been jelly making day in Histon - there was a lovely fruity jelly smell as I cycled through. Memories of eating jelly cubes as a boy came flooding back. (If you are interested do a search for jelly cubes on the Blog I have mentioned this before.)


Because of my attempts at over-taking cyclists on the concrete tracks I managed a reasonable pace home. I did have a few more aches and pains than usual though - the cycling along the slippery paths was harder work than it looked.

The CGB was busy - 34 cyclists on the tracks and 8 on the cycleway - I was surprised especially as quite a few were closer to the St Ives end. the popularity will be hit when they start running buses on the CGB - especially if they don't fix the cycle path flooding at the same time.


  1. CZAs

    That cloud patch in your Sundog pictures arrived at my location about 30 minutes after taking the CZA picture. However the really bright CZA only lasted for 10 seconds after I got the camera out. Then lower level clouds made it tricky to see until "your" clouds arrived and completely obscured it.

    Most of these phenomena are pretty short-lived, so Keep Looking Up!

    Today I reviewed some photos of halo phenomena I took a month ago with a cheap mobile phone (all I had with me at the time), and realised that I'd photographed something much rarer than I thought at the time (and I was pretty excited then). The display lasted over an hour, which would have been plenty of time to cycle to the nearest town and buy a cheap camera that would have done a far better job than the mobile. Not long enough to ride home and get the serious photographic kit though :-((

    My new mantra:
    Keep Looking Up. Always Carry a Camera.
    Always Carry a Camera. Keep Looking Up.

  2. I had not realised that the CZA could be so fleeting. I always carry my camera (pretty much always) but will have to be quick on the draw if I see a CZA.

    Next time I will keep my clouds in check :-)

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